Grab your blanket, a partner, and some popcorn and settle in for some horror in the silence of space. These titles range to include the absurd to the all too possible. From classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Aliens, the second installment of the Alien franchise to space vampires in Lifeforce, they all share themes of humanity’s fear of the unknown and the desolation of space. There’s something so isolating about the idea of space that makes horror set in it so much more terrifying. It might just be the perfect setting for exploiting our fears. Prepare yourself for the scariest movies set in space.
Christian Alvart's Pandorum is a dark tale of madness and depravity and one of the scariest movies set in space. In the future, an overpopulated Earth has sent an ark called the Elysium to begin a new colony on the planet Tanis. The trip is supposed to take 123 years, during which time rotating crews are awakened to run the ark for two years at a time. At some point along this journey the Elysium receives word that the population of the Earth has been decimated. Later, when two members of the crew awake from stasis, they discover a mostly abandoned ship. However, they soon discover that they're not entirely alone, and what occupies the ship isn't entirely human… anymore.
The Last Days on Mars
A scientific mission to discover life on Mars ends up identifying a strange fungus that transforms those in contact with it into zombie-like creatures in Ruairí Robinson's The Last Days on Mars. Mere hours before their departure from Mars, an astronaut engineers a plan to make one last trip to a site where he had earlier discovered signs of life. An accident leaves him trapped in a fissure in the Earth and infected by the fungus contained within. Rescue attempts result in the rapid spread of the infection. Soon, all the members of the Mars mission must battle against zombies, and each other, in order to escape the planet while trying to avoid spreading the infection to Earth. This is definitely one of the scariest movies set in space despite the fact that it was not well received. It’s still a well-made film and definitely worth watching if you’re a sci-fi horror fan.
Supernova is a bit of an unloved child. The film was credited to "Thomas Lee," a pseudonym that had replaced "Alan Smithee." It's definitely a good bit of trashy fun. The passengers of the Nightingale 229 receive a distress signal from 3,000 light years away. During a dimensional jump used to reach the distress signal, they suffer a malfunction that kills their captain and leaves the crew stranded near a blue giant star about to supernova. The crew picks up a hitchhiker and a nine-dimensional artifact and things generally go pretty horrifically from there as their new passenger reveals a homicidal insanity. This isn't just one of the scariest movies set in space, it's also one of the weirdest.
Paul W.S. Anderson's Event Horizon is one of the scariest movies set in space and another cautionary tale about not answering distress signals. Just don't do it. The crew of the Lewis and Clark receives a distress signal from the Event Horizon, a ship that had disappeared years ago. When they arrive they find the ship, which generated black holes to travel through space, has been the site of a terrible massacre. Evidence mounts that the ship has traveled to a dimension that resembles hell, which has turned the ship into a sentient being intent on torturing its inhabitants. The ship begins to play on each character’s fears and creates for each of them a personal hell. The insanity and violence soon mounts as the film comes to its horrifying conclusion.
Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce is a campy romp of a film, but it's definitely worth a look. When the crew of the spaceship Churchill investigates an enormous ship hidden behind Halley's Comet they discover hundreds of bat creatures and three humanoids. The humanoids turn out to be something like space vampires and they wreak havoc on the earth by sucking peoples' lifeforce instead of blood. The space vampires are led by a seductive female who holds a special connection with one of the surviving members of the Churchill. This plays out about as well as you might imagine. Lifeforce is pretty strange but if you can get past that it's still one of the scariest movies set in space.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a ponderous, dark meditation on what it means to be human in an age where humanity exceeds the bounds of the Earth. The mysterious sense of dread is presented in the motif of a number of large black monoliths that also propel the plot. Each represents a moment of discovery for humanity. During the journey to the final monolith near Jupiter the crew of the Discovery One is sabotaged by their highly intellectual artificial intelligence, HAL. HAL is terrifying because he is cold, calculating, and ruthless, and exactly what we fear AI might be. HAL represents one of the greatest antagonists in film history. The film ends much the same as it begins; with a strange meditation upon humanity's future. 2001 is more cerebral than some of the other films on this list but make no mistake this is one of the scariest movies set in space.
“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Sam Rockwell is pitch-perfect in this slow burning film directed by Duncan Jones. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a Helium-3 miner on the Moon, who begins to unravel the terrifying truth about the station he works on, as well as his own identity. Nearing the end of his three-year contract Sam is nearly killed in an accident. When he recovers, he finds that his AI assistant GERTY has awakened what appears to be a clone to replace him. The two begin to explore the psychologically terrifying implications of their relationship to each other and their past. Soon they must decide how they can survive as the corporation takes steps to end both of their lives. If only one of them can live how can they choose? Perhaps what makes Moon one of the scariest movies set in space is that it is so scientifically accurate and plausible.
After the events of Alien, James Cameron's Aliens follows Ripley as she is rescued from cryogenic sleep after drifting for 57 years. Her employer asks that she return to LV-426 with a team of marines to investigate a terraforming colony they have lost contact with. Ripley initially refuses, like any sane person would, and then decides to go anyway. Aliens (multiple, hence the name) have overtaken the colony and aside from a young girl who has hidden in the air ducts, the colony's population seems to be hiding below the main reactor. When Ripley and the marines search for the colony members they discover an enormous alien nest where live humans are impregnated with aliens. The film just gets darker from there as a prolonged game of cat and mouse plays out. Aliens is one of the best Alien franchise films and definitely one of the scariest movies set in space.
In James Isaac's Jason X, an accidentally cryogenically frozen Jason is discovered by a group of young people on the distant future's equivalent of a field trip. Thinking that Jason is dead they leave him in the ship's morgue. Of course, he wakes up and begins killing pretty much anyone he can find. A modified robot manages to turn Jason into some ground beef, but this doesn't end well when a malfunctioning medical bay uses nano technology to repair his body. The repaired Jason emerges as an unstoppable cyborg, as if Jason wasn't bad enough. This film might not be as serious as others on this list, but it’s an excellent example of a good slasher film. If you're a fan of the Friday the 13th series then this tenth installment in space might be just what you're looking for.